I’ve been playing Halo since the very first installment of the franchise, through 2 and 3, and concluding with the rushed ODST. Halo: Reach is the culmination of all that has come before.
Like the later iterations of Halo games, there is both a shield system that recharges over time and health that can be restored through health packs. Additionally, there are armor abilities: jetpack, camouflage, sprint, and a shield. Multiplayer is expansive but basically the same game we’ve come to expect, capable of supporting large groups of combatants on even larger battlefields. Where Gears of War is about crowded, dirty in-your-face fighting, Halo has always been about leaping across massive fields to engage your enemy from a distance. The title “reach” is appropriate. Speaking of Gears of War, the Firefight multiplayer option shows the game’s influence, which is Halo’s version of Horde mode.
After being underwhelmed by Halo 3: ODST’s single-player campaign, I was curious if Halo: Reach would do any better. The campaign setting is a bold move, taking place in 2552 before the very first Halo: Combat Evolved game. Humanity is in losing the war with the alien Covenant and is slowly retrenching as it evacuates over 700 million civilians off of the planet known as Reach.
Our heroes are Noble Team, the United Nations Space Command (UNSC) special forces unit that consists of Spartan supersoldiers. The team is led by Carter-A259 (Freddy Bosche), the handsome but grim leader of the group. His second is Kat-B320 (Alona Tal), the only female on the team who has a cybernetic arm. There’s also giant-with-a-heart-of-gold heavy weapons specialist Jorge-052 (Hakeem Kae-Kazim), marksman Jun-A266 (Sunil Malhotra), and the bad attitude skull-faced Emile-A239 (Jamie Hector). You play Noble Six, who like Master Chief never takes off his helmet but does have a few speaking parts. We know that Master Chief was the last of his kind at the beginning of Halo, so things aren’t going to go well for these soldiers.
Noble Team goes on a series of increasingly futile missions, rescuing top secret data from research bases, evacuating important civilians, and delaying attacks long enough for civilian transports to escape. Along the way, Noble Team falls apart a little at a time.
Despite the improved graphics, better AI, and new gizmos, this is still the same Halo we know and love. It also means there’s still no bathrooms of note, every room is huge, and despite civilians running around in confusion the entire city of New Alexandria looks more like a shopping mall than any place people actually might live. Halo is about big, open spaces, but as a setting it never actually feels inhabited by anyone before you begin playing.
The voice actors are a mixed bag. The design team obviously tried hard to make the characters culturally diverse, but that unfortunately left us with Kat sporting a dull monotone Russian accent. As she has the most speaking parts, this makes for some terrible dialogue. I was relieved when Kat finally died.
What Halo: Reach does right is high drama. I’ve always felt that Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori’s stirring score was much too epic for a first-person shooter like Halo, but Halo: Reach lives up to the promise of its music. Reach’s music rises to a crescendo that is both stirring and heartbreaking.
There’s a surprise twist near the end of the game that makes Halo: Reach personal and firmly ties it to the other installments. And after the game ends, there’s a post-credits sequence that makes it all the more poignant. Halo: Reach takes the franchise about as far as it can go without substantially altering what was originally a world that existed simply for jumping-and-gunning. It’s a great send off for the franchise, but for players accustomed to Gears of War’s innovations like using cover, it’s a bit of a reach.
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